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The new Columbia Presbyterian Church Ministry Center on Route 108 is fast becoming an attraction to area residents.

"It seems like the building has become a landmark on 108," the Rev. Allen Harris, the congregation's pastor, said of the eye-catching center.

"We've already seen a lot more people," said Associate Pastor Stephen Green. "People come and see the church and ask when it will be done. There's a lot of people saying when the facility is opened, we will come."

Construction of the $2 million, 500-seat ministry center began in March 1993. Last-minute finishing touches to the building, such as stair treads, were being applied Friday.

The 450-member orthodox Presbyterian congregation will hold its first service in the center today. An open house will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. March 20.

Inside the modified A-frame building are large wooden beams and arches, and in the fellowship hall, large tinted windows and orange floor tiles. The hall also can be set up for use as a basketball, volleyball or tennis court.

"The building is here to serve the community," Mr. Harris said. The center may be made available to other churches and groups.

The center, which was designed by Tennessee architect Roy Gilleland, will allow the church to provide youth, adult, singles, athletic, small group and overseas ministries for its congregation and the community.

The church's theme is ministry, and "the building reflected the minds and philosophy of the ministries," Mr. Harris said.

The center was built without a sanctuary, but construction of a sanctuary and classrooms is planned.

Members welcome the new center.

"I think it fits in well with Columbia in that it's a modern design," said member Charles Clark. "I like the design."

"I think it's good for a church to have a building and people can see it," said Lorna Sharp, a church member since 1978.

The church began in the 1970s with 25 core members as a daughter church of Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Burtonsville.

The members never wanted to build their own building. "We wanted to put our money into people rather than mortar and bricks," Mr. Harris said.

They met at the Meeting House until they were expelled in 1984 over religious differences. Mr. Harris offended some at the Meeting House, which is used by various faiths, by saying that to be saved, people must believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

As a result, members of the congregation began meeting at Stonehouse in the Long Reach Village Center in October 1984. But they soon realized that they needed a bigger facility to accommodate the growth of the congregation and its ministries.

The congregation eventually raised $500,000 to buy seven acres and a residence on Route 108 in June 1988. The residence, which houses the church offices, was renamed the Potter's House, after a passage in the Book of Jeremiah in which God tells Jeremiah to go to the potter's house to receive his message.

From October 1987 until today's service at the ministry center, the congregation met at Howard Community College, where it paid $50,000 a year in rent, Mr. Harris said.

"It was getting harder to find a rental place to accommodate us," Mr. Harris said. "This [the Route 108 property] was the 20th property we looked at. We've seen churches get into debt. We wanted to avoid that."

The congregation raised money for the center through "sacrificial giving" and bonds, Mr. Harris said.

"Our purpose as a church since 1978 has been threefold," Mr. Harris said, "to help people to know God as he really is, to help them to know the hope that they can have through the work of Jesus, the Messiah, and to forgive them and to transform them and to know his power in daily living.

"The ministry center is a way of working that out."

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